The ILG National conference started out with a bang this morning as the Acting Director of the OFCCP, Craig Leen took the stage to introduce the conference and some new, forward-thinking initiatives that he would like to see come out of the agency. During his speech, Mr. Leen emphasized that he would like to help workers across the country and assist the contracting community as best as possible in compliance with federal regulations. In doing this, he outlined the following goals he has for the agency:
Transparency has been a big talking point within the OFCCP over the last couple of months with the announcement of Predetermination Notices (PDN) and the trend continued at today’s opening session. Contractors involved in an audit will now receive a PDN if there are indicators found during the OFCCP’s investigation, allowing the contractor the ability to respond prior to a Notice of Violation. This will let the agency work directly with contractors in remedying certain issues that were found as well as provide clarity in what the OFCCP is focusing on. Mr. Leen also commented that it’s “very important to disclose methodology” as to how audits are generally conducted, who is selected and, if there are indicators, inform the contractor sooner within the review. If additional requests are made, Compliance Officers need to have a valid reason behind the request so as not to create a “fishing expedition”. If CO is unable to provide a valid reason, Mr. Leen encouraged contractors to contact their regional and district offices.
In addition to the valid reason behind the additional requests, it was stressed that COs must give contractors a reasonable time to respond to the request. If it’s found that a CO is giving an arbitrary due date that is unrealistic and is seemingly being used to intimidate the contractor, it will not be tolerated. Mr. Leen gave insight into the agency as he stated that it doesn’t make sense to give contractors seven to 10 days to respond to a request when the CO won’t likely get to it until day 30, which was well received within the audience as applause broke out from contractors who have likely faced those unreasonable timelines from COs.
Mr. Leen provided some suggestions for tools available today and, potentially, in the future for contractors. He gave high praise to the OFCCP’s help desk and encouraged contractors to use the resources available to them by reaching out and asking questions. He stressed that the help desk allows for anonymous requests and answers to any common or complicated questions received would be made public through the FAQ section of the OFCCP site. Opinion letters were also suggested as ways to keep the agency and contractor community on the same page, yet this was brought up more as a ‘wish list’ item rather than something that may actually come to fruition. Ombudsman were also mentioned as something the agency might look further into in order to bridge the gap between CO and contractor – if a contractor is feeling targeted by their CO, they will be able to contact the ombud to verify whether the request is something usually asked for or, if it does seem like the treatment isn’t fair, the ombud would contact the regional or district office about the particular circumstance.
Certainty was the second goal discussed and Mr. Leen was very clear about wanting to follow the “rule of law” during compliance evaluations so knowing how to comply is clear to the contracting community. With audits being, at times, inconsistent, he emphasized the importance of establishing more guidance on how compliance reviews are conducted so contractors can be proactive in their reviews and know what the OFCCP might find in a compliance investigation. Mr. Leen again mentioned the PDN as he commented it will lead to more certainty as to what the CO found within their review and provide time for remedy.
Efficiency is a goal every contractor can appreciate. The average lifespan of an audit has increased over the last several years with some audits not being touched by a CO in over a year (sometimes longer). Mr. Leen acknowledges this is “horrible” and hopes to make the desk audit phase last closer to 45 days. “We are going to work with you when we find indicators” was stressed but followed closely with a remark that denial of access “isn’t fair” and singles out companies looking for special treatment. As denial of access will prevent audits from closing, it will only increase the timeframe of an open audit and will make the auditing process less efficient. It was again mentioned if an unreasonable request is made by a CO to contact district office.
Lastly, Mr. Leen indicated that he was looking into bringing back recognition awards to acknowledge those contractors doing exceedingly well within the industry, specifically for those who participate in outreach programs geared towards protected groups. Participation within these groups will hopefully demonstrate the contractor’s commitment to compliance and make the auditing process less burdensome.
With this year’s conference theme being ‘Navigating the Waves of Change’, we hope that some of these ambitious goals outlined by Mr. Leen won’t go to the wayside like so many have in the past but will, in fact, be the change we all hope to see within the agency.